Tryon candidates answer questions from Bulletin

Published 6:55 pm Thursday, October 20, 2011

Editor’s note: The Bulletin asked municipal candidates to answer questions about local issues. Below are the answers provided by Tryon candidates.
1. What will be your top priorities if elected to town/city council?
George Baker: My top priority will be to ensure Tryon continues to live within its means and to scrutinize expenditures both expensed (reoccurring), and capitalized.
Roy Miller: My priorities will continue to focus on solutions for the future of our water plant, whether that is selling or leasing to keep rising water rates down. Secondly, focusing on our aging sewer and water lines, which are in need of major repair and/or replacement. Lastly, but most importantly is to keep all of our rates tolerable for our citizens.
Alan Peoples: My top priorities are as follows with no particular order:
• Renovate town hall to save energy and have usable rental space
• Facilitate getting the old Tryon Federal buildings off the market and renovated for use
• Find a developer for the maintenance shed area and move it to the sewer plant area
• Ensure that we can keep our tax rate low
• Work with other organizations to promote Tryon
• Continue work on a facelift for all of downtown
Jim Scott: Keeping the town expenses in line with tax revenues without tax increases, while maintaining an acceptable level of town services.

2. What issues do you see facing the city/town and what would you do to address those issues during your term?
George Baker: The biggest issue facing Tryon is the recognition that it is a town of LESS than 1800 people. It cannot be everything to everyone. Many of the events and festivities, while wonderful, wind up being for people who do not live and pay taxes in Tryon. These expenses must be closely scrutinized and planned in a way which does not become a burden on taxpayers.
Roy Miller: 1. Aging infrastructure
2. Dilapidated structures
3. Lack of economic growth
4. Water rates
5. Street repairs/resurfacing
6. Speeding
7. Debt (payments)
If re-elected I would continue to address these issues. There is no easy fix for most of these issues, but some such as speeding and economic growth can be resolved with minimal financial impact.
Alan Peoples: Our largest concern is maintaining quality services for the residents of Tryon and doing it within the parameters of a struggling economy. One way for us to do this at this time is to reduce the number of employees that we have; we just did that in the water department with a retiree, and we are looking at doing the same in other areas. A second way is for us to reduce the number of cars and/or other equipment whenever possible. A third way is to outsource some work to the private sector.
Jim Scott: There are several issues facing the town. The most serious is the declining revenues due to the economy along with the flat or declining tax base. Expense control will be essential to resolving this problem.

3. All small towns are seeing significant decreases in state revenues as a result of the economic downturns of the past several years. How do you plan to overcome those shortfalls in revenues in the future?
George Baker: See question 1 above – as revenues dwindle from one source they must be replaced by new revenues or the corresponding services or expenditures must be trimmed. New revenue sources are few in a town of 1,800 or less. I did not and do not support forced annexation, a position one if not both of my opponents did not take.
We must examine the way we support our various parks, festivals and parades; it is not fair to make the majority of citizens support things they may not want or participate in.
Roy Miller: If revenues have taken a hit then we have to cut back on spending and maybe cut back on personnel as we have done in the past. There may be future decreases in services or service delivery but my last resort is to raise taxes. I have definitely been opposed to raising taxes.
We scaled back on trash services from twice a week to one time a week. I also believe we will have to scale back on our capital expenditures if that means reducing the number of vehicles in our fleet or looking at other areas that will allow us to be more fiscally responsible.
Tryon has become financially solvent in recent years. But as we continue to take on more and more projects, in particular with aging infrastructure, we need to have that cooperation and a unified source to lessen the burden on any one area.
Alan Peoples: We have expected to see the state decrease our revenues and began to plan for these decreases as far back as 2002-03 when the state took roughly $92,000 and then authorized the citizens to vote for a tax increase in sales tax to make up for the State’s overspending. We have made several moves that have saved monies for the town:
• We put almost 100 CFLs and high-efficiency light bulbs at town hall and the fire department.
• We have sold used vehicles from one department to another rather than buying two new vehicles.
• The new water system upgrade from the mountain will save us about $8,000 or more  per year in electrical costs for the water department.
• We are always looking for ways to cut expenses.
Jim Scott: Continued careful control of all expenses and periodic re-evaluation of areas where there are county/town duplication of services.

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4. Recent improvements have been made to homes and infrastructure in Tryon’s Eastside community through state and federal dollars. What other plans do you have and how would you fund those plans to continue the revitalization of the Eastside?
George Baker: Unfortunately there are not a lot of new revenues available; we must continue to work the funding sources of the past while diligently pursuing any new opportunities. We cannot lose the progress that has been made. One solution might be to hire a professional firm that specializes in fundraising for exactly this situation. Their fee could be paid from the funds they generate.
Roy Miller: We have began to look at phase two and it’s kind of ironic because we just held the first Eastside summit looking at ways to help spur revitalization. One thing is we will need that partnership with citizens to know exactly what they want in that community to bring it up to standards of every other part of our community.
The future holds removing blighted areas and improving things that will make the neighborhood more aesthetically pleasing and looking to improve infrastructure. But again, all of this comes with a price tag. Hopefully we can go after additional grant dollars but it’s going to come down to everyone buying into it.
Alan Peoples: The town has authorized and used an amount that helps with the removal of derelict houses that are a blight on the community. The town has also worked with Habitat to procure some new housing for residents in the Eastside. We will continue to allocate funds, write grants and work for matching grants for the Eastside community and all of Tryon.
Jim Scott: Having served on the Eastside committee for six years, I am pleased with the improvements that have been made there, but disappointed there were not more. The wheels of revitalization move very slowly and we need to speed it up. State and federal grants have been and will continue to be very important, but town money will also be required, especially in the area of condemned and dangerous buildings.

5. Polk County and the towns have attempted during the past year to meet jointly on common issues. How do you feel about partnering with the county, Columbus and Saluda? What are your feelings about partnering with Polk County, Columbus and Saluda on a joint water system for the future?
George Baker: Common ground with the other towns and the county has been and I fear will continue to be uncommon until the other two towns realize that it is not in the county’s interest to partner with towns that provide at their own expense services that the county must provide for those outside the towns. In essence, we in the towns pay twice, county taxes and town taxes, and until we can get this situation resolved the taxes we pay in Tryon will continue to be more than the taxes we pay to the county.
Harmon Field is a good example. It is used by the entire county and more but paid for by Tryon Township residences. The water system is another example of Tryon residences paying twice. The county purchase of Lake Adger was funded by everyone in Polk County, yet we have had to undertake to refurbish our own system to the tune of millions by the time it is totally done. This water canard has been bandied about for more than a decade and nothing has happened because no one will relinquish control. All eventually go their separate ways congratulating themselves that they are still in control.
Roy Miller: I was a councilmember when we first sat down to try and form a countywide water system. I’ve always been open – we need to provide the best possible services for our citizens and I think we have to do that as a collective body to maintain a viable water source.
I think water is the most important issue facing all of us – securing a longstanding water source for everyone. I would like to see, however, that this is equally shared between the municipalities and the county. I don’t want to see a majority body with control over a water authority.
I think there are also other things that we can work together on – a countywide law enforcement. I think it would be beneficial to see municipal substations functioning under a countywide system. I’d also like to see countywide partnership on events that allow the entire area to benefit such as events like the Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival.
If we pool our resources together on many of these topics we can get a bigger bang for our buck. All of these things need to come into play so we are all going in one direction.
Alan Peoples: I have been a supporter of partnering with the county and towns since I was a county commissioner from 1996-2000. At that time I felt that the school system should also be included. We all use some of the same basic resources and could benefit from bulk buying. I have wanted a WASA for the past 10 years – water is the big battle. A grant writer department that was shared by all could probably pay for itself. We could buy equipment that could be used by more than one entity; lend/lease would have to be worked out. Finally, we could pay attention to the police and fire: they have a great mutual aid agreement.
Jim Scott: These four entities have met periodically for at least the past five years, with varying degrees of success. I feel we should continue to meet regularly to work on mutual problems, including a joint water system in the future. However, if elected, my first priority would always be to do what is best for the citizens of the town of Tryon.